SEWARD, Neb. – An improved Baker University squad out of the Heart of America Athletic Conference spoiled the debut of the 2017 Concordia University volleyball team on Saturday (Aug. 19). In front of a large Walz Arena crowd that gathered as part of launch weekend on campus, the visiting Wildcats blazed to a 25-16, 25-16, 25-14, win in the season opener for both sides.
Sixth-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad will attempt to quickly regroup in time for another home match on Wednesday night.
“You look at all the individual pieces and we’ve got so much talent,” Mattera said. “We have great kids that work hard and stay together. They’re selfless. There’s a ton of talent. You can see flashes of it today.
“This is going to be a fun team to watch. I want to thank everyone who came out today. The results are going to be better. Help us believe in the process.”
Baker (1-0) played without the services of 2016 second team all-conference middle Olivia Brees, but still managed to outhit the Bulldogs, .303 to -.049. Concordia failed to register a positive hitting percentage in any of the three sets. On the other hand, Ashley Sparks (match high 12 kills) and company sizzled in the first (.375) and third (.409) sets.
The Bulldogs looked like a unit still adjusting to a revamped roster. Saturday saw Kelsey Baarck (five kills) make her Concordia debut after transferring in from Mott Community College. Additionally, senior middle Annie Friesen returned from the ACL tear she suffered last season and the combo of sophomore captain Emma Brand and freshman Tara Callahan replaced Alayna Kavanaugh in the setter role.
Some fine tuning will be needed after the Bulldogs committed 26 hitting errors in the season opener. Sophomore Alex La Plant had the most success on the attack. She pummeled seven kills on 17 swings. She was also one of four Bulldogs with exactly four digs. Callahan, a Brady High School product, dished out 14 assists in her first collegiate match.
Several front row players turned in fine afternoons for the Wildcats. Sparks (.333), Abby Goulding (.636) and Makaila Garcia (.375) each hit better than .300 while combining for 23 of the team’s 30 kills. Baker employed a setting duo of Jenna Sackman (12 assists) and Megan Milroy (10 assists). The Wildcats, coached by Matt Windle, were picked to finish sixth in the 14-team HAAC.
“We were ready physically. We were not ready mentally,” Mattera said. “We stayed together. The crowd came, exactly what we wanted. We just did not handle it well. We have to toughen up.”
Concordia also lost its season opener to Baker in 2012. The defeat on Saturday ended a run of four-straight years with a season opening victory for the Bulldogs.
Next up will be Wednesday’s visit from Bethany College, a member of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. CT from Walz Arena. The Swedes are coming off a 10-22 campaign in 2016.